PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Davis and Olsen retire together, Rhule and Fitterer discuss future, Draft update, Moton’s Gastonia connection
By Richard Walker
It’s been a busy week for the Carolina Panthers.
It was highlighted by Thursday’s emotional retirement announcements by popular former players Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen.
Each player returned to Bank of America Stadium to sign one-day contracts in order to finish their careers with the Panthers.
Davis, selected No. 14 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft out of Georgia, played 13 seasons for the Panthers and one season each for the Los Angeles Chargers and the Washington Football Team. He missed parts of two seasons and all of another season early in his Carolina career due to three surgeries to repair torn knee ligaments.
He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a one-time All-Pro and was honored by the NFL in 2014 as the Walter Payton Man of the Year. With 1,098 tackles, he ranks first all-time in Panthers history in that category.
Olsen, acquired in a trade from the Chicago Bears in 2011 for a third round draft pick, played nine seasons for the Panthers after his four seasons with the Bears and completed his career with one season with the Seattle Seahawks. A three-time Pro Bowler, Olsen is third all-time in Carolina history in receptions (524) and yards receiving (6,463).
Rhule, Fitterer discuss future
Carolina head coach Matt Rhule and new general manager Scott Fitterer made it clear on Wednesday the team would not be a factor in pursuing big name free agents this summer.
That doesn’t mean the Panthers won’t be bargain shopping in an effort to upgrade the roster of a team that went 5-11 last season in Ruhle’s first season as head coach.
“We’re not just one player away,” Rhule said. “We’re in a situation where we have to keep building our team. Like I said earlier with the cap situation, we have to be really targeted.”
Rhule added that running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Shaq Thompson had restructured their contracts in ways that cleared up $11 million in salary cap space in a year in which the league’s salary cap is dropping from $198.2 million in 2020 to $182.5 million this season.
Many around the league think that drop will create many one-year contracts.
“We’ll talk to a lot of agents starting on Monday and see where the market is,” Fitterer said. “However, I think this might be one of those years where if you just wait and are patient, you might be able to get quite a few players in that middle class who get pinched by the cap this year.
“Even though we’ve created a lot of cap room, this is not a year we’re going to go wild spending money. We’re going to be very judicious in how we go about this.”
Panthers draft picks
Due to last year’s free agent departures, the Panthers picked up a pair of sixth-round draft picks – Nos. 220 and 224 overall – in addition to the six picks they already had; Carolina had traded its seventh-round pick to Buffalo in 2018.
The other picks are No. 8 overall (first round), No. 39 overall (second round), No. 73 overall (third round), No. 113 overall (fourth round), No. 151 overall (fifth round) and No. 192 overall (sixth round).
Current mock drafts have the Panthers choosing North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 8 overall selection.
Who’s the quarterback?
With so many mock drafts expecting the Panthers to choose a quarterback and reports linking the team to trade rumors of other NFL quarterbacks, will Teddy Bridgewater enter the 2021 season as a the starter?
Rhule tried to address the situation on Wednesday.
“Teddy is a tremendous professional, and a tremendous person,” Rhule said. “So I can’t speak for him, but I think he’s controlling what he can control, he’s having a great offseason, I’m sure. I can’t wait to get him back here. I think he’s determined to play his best football next year.
“As far as where he stands with us, he’s our quarterback. Nothing’s changed since the end of the offseason. It’s really not much to add from where we started at the end of the year. We’re going to continue to try to improve the roster at every position, through free agency, through the draft, and through development. We expect players to play better than they played last year, we expect coaches to coach better than they coached last year, and that’s at every position.”
Of course, Rhule said shortly after being hired a year ago he looked forward to working with quarterback Cam Newton before the Panthers released the 2015 NFL MVP on March 24 – or nine days after signing Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million free agent contract.
Bridgewater started 15 games for the Panthers last season, setting career-highs in completions (340), attempts (492), completion percentage (69.1), yards (3,733) and touchdowns (15).
Moton’s big payday
The Panthers placed the franchise tag on offensive tackle Taylor Moton on Monday, which means he’ll receive $14 million to play next season.
Moton, a second-round pick out of Central Michigan, is the grandson of former Gastonia Highland High School standout Thomas Gunnings. Moton helped accept his grandfather’s induction into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
Moton has played all but six snaps the last three seasons in the Panthers’ offensive line. He became the third offensive lineman to be tagged by the franchise; The others were tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil.